Archaeologists have found evidence of human settlements in the Czech Republic, dating back to the Stone Age.
In the late 9th century, the Bohemian state emerged. Wenceslas I ruled it from 921, until his death in 935. King Wenceslas (sound familiar?) is the subject of the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas" and he remains the Czech Republic's patron saint.
In the early 13th century Germans immigrated here in large numbers. They formed colonies and increased the population of existing small towns across the Czech lands.
The Czech throne was taken by John of Luxembourg in 1310. He ruled the country until 1346, and during his reign the Czech lands expanded and Prague continued to grow.
His son, Charles IV, lead his people into the 'Golden Age' of their history. He established Prague as the cultural capital of central Europe and made it one of the most prosperous European cities at the time.
When Charles IV was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in 1355, Prague's status increased to the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Consequently, many buildings projects began, including the St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague's New Town, Charles University, Karlstejn Castle and the iconic Charles Bridge.
To this day Charles IV, a highly educated man who spoke five languages, is remembered as the most beloved Czech king and the "father of the Czech nation."
In the 15th century conflicts between the Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church raged. One of the reform leaders, John Hus, preached rebellious sermons that irritated the Catholic Church, and he was publicly burned at the stake in 1415.
Reactions to the killing were strong; protests followed and then came the Hussite Wars. The followers of John Hus (infantry warriors of the day) defeated heavily armored knights and claimed many victories.
The wars ended in 1434 by an agreement between the Hussites and the Catholic Church, and twenty-five years later the Hussites elected a new ruler, King Jiri. He lead a policy of peace and unification and is beloved to this day.
In 1526, Ferdinand I of Habsburg took up the Czech throne, consequently Bohemia became increasingly under the control of the Habsburgs, one of the most important aristocratic royal houses of Europe, best known for being the origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740.
Revolts by the Catholics against the Habsburgs in 1618 marked the start of the Thirty Years' War, which quickly spread throughout Central Europe. In Prague, Protestant leaders were executed on the Old Town Square and all religions except Catholicism were banned.
In 1620, the rebellion in Bohemia was crushed, but the war had devastating effects as the Czech language was suppressed for the next 150 years and Prague lost most of its importance. This period in Czech history is referred to as the 'Dark Age.'
The situation improved some with the reigns of Marie Therese of Austria and her son Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor. Together they ruled from 1740 to 1790, reducing the power of the Catholic Church, and granting political and religious rights to religious minorities.
Near the end of the 18th century national pride emerged as a popular (and successful) movement surfaced to finally bring the Czech language, culture and national identity back to life.
That pride stretched into the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century as factories were constructed, new railways opened and a level of stability returned.
And then in 1914, Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo. His assassination caused Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia. This brought Germany and other countries into the conflict, and World War I began.
By war's end, millions were dead including an estimated 150,000 Czech soldiers. Some large European powers (including Germany and Russia) lost vast tracts of land, and were militarily and politically defeated by the allies.
With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, the Czech lands and Slovakia jointly proclaimed the establishment of independent Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918, and Prague became the capital.
In the mid-1930s, more than 3 million ethnic German inhabitants of the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia (called the Sudetenland) began calling for, and demanding autonomy. Across the border in Germany, Adolph Hitler was listening.
In September of 1938, seeing a chance to appease Hitler and avoid a war in Europe, Britain, France, Italy and Germany signed the Munich Pact, giving Hitler the right to invade and claim Czechoslovakia's border areas, thus liberating the unhappy German inhabitants.
On March 15, 1939, Czechoslovakia was invaded by Hitler's army. The border territories were seized by Germany and the rest of the country was occupied by Nazi Germany until the end of World War II in 1945.
Approximately 350,000 Czechoslovakian citizens, including 275,000 Jews, were killed or executed while hundreds of thousands of others were sent to prisons and concentration camps, or used as forced labor.
MAJOR CITY & MAP:PRAGUE
The end of the war in Czechoslovakia came with the 'Prague Uprising' on May 5, 1945, and the subsequent liberation of Prague by the Soviet Red Army on May 9, in which nearly 150,000 Soviet troops died in the effort. The western regions of Czechoslovaki were liberated by the American army lead by General George Patton.
After the war the Communist Party slowly began to take control, industries were nationalized, and almost the entire German minority in Czechoslovakia, about 3 million people, were expelled to Germany and Austria and their property was seized.
The Communist Party was soon favored by a majority of the people, and because of the Munich (invasion) Pact, a strongly-felt dissatisfaction with the West remained, and a very favorable attitude towards the Soviet Union arose because Red Army troops had helped to liberate Prague
By 1948, the Communists secured control of key locations in Prague, and (a new) all-Communist government was formed. For the next 41 years, Czechoslovakia would remain a Communist state.
Nationalization in Czechoslovakia continued, and most of the privately owned companies became the property of the state. The economy grew during the 1950s and 1960s, but it eventually declined under Communism's socialist policies.
The so-called 'Prague Spring' began in January of 1968 when Slovak Alexander Dubcek came to power. He tried to grant additional rights to the citizens by loosening restrictions on the media, speech and travel.
In August of the year, the Soviet Union felt that the growing political freedoms in Czechoslovakia were now a threat so five Warsaw Pact member (Communist countries) invaded Czechoslovakia, and Soviet troops continued to occupy the country until 1989.
From 1968 to mid-1980s the Soviets tried to put things back to the way they were before the attempted 'Prague Spring' reform. Citizens did protest those methods, but if caught, they were treated very severely. In fact, thousands of Czechs and Slovaks were sent to prison for 'anti-state activities. Consequently, nearly 500,000 left the country.
In the late 1980's, Soviet President Gorbachev introduced policies to help reduce the corruption in the Communist Party. That move called 'Glasnost' sparked a passionate desire for freedom across the Soviet Union, and in the end, the desire for freedom from Communism caused the total collapse of Russia in 1991.
With that Russian breakdown in progress, the last years of communism where certainly on the horizon, and when the Berlin Wall finally fell in November of 1989, the non-violent 'Velvet Revolution' brought an end to communism in Czechoslovakia.
For years Slovak national aspirations were a hot button issue, and January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the independent Czech Republic and Slovakia. Vaclav Havel, former dissident, was elected the first president of the Czech Republic.
On its way from Communism to capitalism, the Czech Republic went through many economic reforms and privatizations. It joined NATO in 1999 and on May 1, 2004, it joined the EU along with 10 other nations.
The Czech Republic, and in particular the capital city of Prague, has become one of the major tourist destinations in Europe. Other highly-visited attractions in the Czech Republic include Karlstejn Castle, Kutna Hora, Cesky Krumlov, and the village of Lednice.
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